The Lichfield House Compact is the name given to an unwritten alliance formed with Whig government and Daniel O’Connell in 1833. O’Connell previous to this and after his success of Catholic Emancipation in being granted in 1829 had been working on his repeal campaign. However repeal was failing due to the fact he did not secure any support from the British MPs compared to that of his Catholic Emancipation campaign. He faced total antipathy in England with a very bleak prospect of achieving repeal as O’Tuaithaigh claims he “ran up against a brick wall of hostility.” Being a pragmatic politician, O’Connell realised that his repeal campaign was a dead issue, so decided to temporarily abandon repeal and pursue social issues that were more personal to the Irish Catholic and overall more achievable! The reforms that the Whigs granted achieved some stability in Ireland are together known as the Lichfield House Compact, yet the question lies whether O’Connell or the Whigs gained the most success out of this unwritten alliance.
The first reform came in 1833, The Church Temporalities Act, which was to address the Tithe problem. The tithes were a payment every civilian had to pay to the State Church, no matter what your religion. In Ireland, the State Church was a minority of 14%, which angered the people of Ireland who were mainly Roman Catholic. The people protested against the payment in 1830 to 1834 through agrarian violence with the deaths of 242 people in 1832. O’Connell had to take action to prevent a revolution occurring in Ireland, and the Whigs wanted the violence put down as well. The Church Temporalities Act was thus introduced. The terms were that the tithe was reduced by 25% and it was all to be included in the rent, so the landlords now collected it.
O’Connell’s gained some success out of this act. The act made the tithe ceased to be a popular grievance which thus ended the violence. O’Connell had always been uncomfortable with violence, once stating “The winning of my country’s freedom is not worth the shedding of a single drop of human blood.” The end of violence portrayed he was finally in control of Ireland. It also meant there was more of a chance of repeal down the line, as when there was violence the British taught the war showed O’Connell and the people could not rule Ireland. The actual reduction can also be seen as an advantage as it overalls reduction meant the people had that little bit extra to spare and live on.
However the act was far from radical! The act didn’t get rid of the tithes, only reducing them. The Catholics despised the Church of England, yet they still had to pay to keep the upkeep of their church. The fact it also became part of your rent caused a negative long term effect that most people didn’t realise. It was actually a form of deception as the people were not aware of how much they were 56. In realisation it actually secured the position of the tithe. The British had been sneaky and had gained one up on O’Connell.
After the government had introduced the act they were criticised as it had looked like they were giving into the Catholics. One MP argued the Whigs were the “servants of Catholics.”
Yet they were mainly a success for the Whigs. Peel had been prepared to give the tithes earlier showing the government hadn’t given anything away that the Conservatives were prepared to give. It also meant that law and order was finally restored to Ireland without the Whigs having to introduce forces. It was quite minor legislation having a positive impact on the people without the government giving too much away. Peace meant England was now in control!
The next reform that the Whigs introduced was the Poor Law in 1838. In the 1820s and 1830s poverty was getting worse in Ireland. Rent was increasing in the countryside and unemployment growing in towns. By 1835 it was estimated that over 2million people were unemployed for 30 weeks of the year. In 1836 the Whigs sent George Nicholls to suggest a solution. After a brief investigation, he recommended that Ireland be given a poor law similar to that which had been introduced in England. The terms were that Ireland was to be divided into 130 poor law districts called unions. Each district would have a workhouse controlled by a Board of Guardians’, elected and appointed by local farmers. A Poor Rate was also to be collected, half to be paid by the landlord and half to be paid by the tenant.
Overall O’Connell didn’t achieve much out of this act. The one positive example was that it was the first time the government had looked after the poor in Ireland. There can be no denying that the workhouses provided a safety net for the poor and more important it did save lives!
However O’Connell gained a lot less more than he gained. The conditions in the workhouses were terrible with them similar or worse to those in England which were nicknamed the “Whig Bastilles”. Once in, you were categorized due to your age, and gender. Thus families all the time were being broken up without seeing each other until you came out, or even never at times, with many deaths occurring throughout them due to diseases and other factors. One of the terms for a civilian to enter the workhouse meant that you had to give up your source of income. For most people in Ireland at this time, their source of income was their plot of land – where they grew their food, cared for their livestock on, and lived on in their home! They had to give up all of this, which meant that when they came back out they had absolutely nothing to come back too! Many seen the government didn’t wanting families planting their potatoes, going into the workhouse, and then coming back out to the grown potatoes rid to be harvested which gave work, and food to these people who were once working for them! It was once commented that the workhouses were “An English solution to an Irish problem.” This was not what O’Connell had hoped for, with the Great Famine on its way!
The Poor Rate term actually encouraged eviction! Many people at this time could not afford their rent. The landlords became impatient, as not only were they waiting on their own payments; they also were paying money to the poor – who weren’t paying them! The result was widespread eviction happening around the country. Also those in the parish that were due to pay their half of the rate couldn’t pay either, giving all the burden to the landlords. Many went bankrupt to this poor rate, and others didn’t want to follow suite, evicting all their tenants that didn’t pay. This had a disastrous effect as imagined on the people, and the landlords!
O’Connell hadn’t even agreed with the Poor Law and didn’t support it at all. He had wanted a public works scheme, and he knew that the Poor Law wouldn’t address the problem. In reality he was true. O’Connell had voted against the act, which shows he himself is not happy at all with the legislation.
The Poor Rate also just turned out to be another financial burden on all of the poor people. They soon had 5 drains that money was going out to before they could feed their family – rent, tithes, upkeep of their own church, poor rates and repeal rates that were given to O’Connell.
When the famine came the workhouses failed – some even say the workhouses spread the famine! O’Connell himself believes that the Poor Law did nothing for Ireland as its cons outweighed the pros.
The government however gained positively from the act. It secured them with the fact that they could claim they had addressed the issue of Irish poverty. The English public had been very unhappy with the issue of Irish poverty as they were genuinely worried and also unhappy with the Irish flooding the markets so now the Whigs could show they had addressed the problem and the rest of the problems were due to the Irish themselves! It successfully covered them.
The last government reform was the Irish Municipal Corporations Act which passed in 1840. This tried to erode the corruption which existed in local government and town councils. They were unrepresentative, corrupt, and had very little effect for the towns they governed! The terms were that all but 10 corporations were to be abolished. A ï¿½10 householder had the right to elect the remaining corporations.
For O’Connell he had some success with this act. It did open local government to Catholics, and gave O’Connell himself the opportunity for a spectacular triumph – he was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1841. It also meant it was the first time Catholics could influence local politics at a level which they were happy with – they didn’t care what was happening in Westminster as most of the legislation wouldn’t have had any effect on the average Irish Catholic. It meant they got the chance of gaining a foothold in politics.
However it was not what O’Connell had hoped for as those corporations that were abolished, he had hoped to have control of them. The terms were not as good as England’s either. O’Connell’s argument was that if Ireland was not treated the same as the Union – then it shouldn’t be a part of it! The laws and powers introduced were very limited, and many of the English still didn’t feel they could trust Catholics. O’Connell had claimed “the system is as orange as ever.”
For the government they didn’t have any negatives with this act. It covered them just like the Poor Law, in that they could claim they were giving Catholics a foothold in politics and showed the concessions they were making.
O’Connell would have seen as Drummond’s reforms as the only ones worth respect. Thomas Drummond was the Irish Under-Secretary. He created a new spirit of fairness and impartiality to the administration of Ireland and introduced further reforms to address the Irish grievances.
They began for the first time to give Catholics a fair share of government jobs. They were appointed to high offices in the Irish judiciary and the Castle. A new national police force was established, with Catholics encouraged to join. The political powers of the extremist Protestant Orange Order were curbed – they were prevented from holding public procession which had often been the cause of riots. Drummond also refused to allow the army or police to be used to collect tithes, or evict tenants. When landlords complained he stated “Property had its duties as well as its rights.”
In conclusion Liz Curtis summed up O’Connell’s side of the Lichfield House Compact as “six wasted years.” He had gained very little out of the reforms the Whigs had made, and it hadn’t addressed many of the grievances, in most cases making them worse! O’Connell now had to start back in to his reform campaign as he had realised he had literally ‘wasted’ the 6 years, while he could have successfully achieved repeal. For the English they came out on the better side. They had gained a lot, without having to give much away!